Generation to Generation: Leadership Truths You Need to Know

I have led teams for a very long time—from start-up to large corporation–and it is, by far, my favorite thing to do. The energy and collaboration are magic. With the right blend of people, there is nowhere you can’t go.

The collective power of leadership and teamwork builds strong and successful businesses. It also develops important knowledge and skill. Even after 30+ years of working with people, the learning experience never ceases, nor do you want it to.

I have always believed that it’s the responsibility of current leaders to secure the future success of their companies, and to build the leadership pipeline of tomorrow.

So, it is in this spirit that I reach out—generation to generation—and share a few truths I have learned during my career:

Execution is just as important—if not more so–as strategy.

In my years of corporate life, strategy has always been the clarion call of leaders, often with very little thought to execution. And while I have great respect for strategy, it is just air until action is applied.

This year’s Superbowl is a terrific example of this. I’m sure that both the Seahawks and Broncos had elaborate strategies that took countless hours to devise. And, each team probably reviewed those strategies numerous times throughout the game.

But, only one team executed its plan that day. That was the team that won.

Strategy only works when you take the necessary steps to move the ball forward. That’s how you turn promises into results. That’s how you win the game.

Saying is one thing. Doing is everything.

The day-to-day workplace is where the magic happens.

Operations of the day-to-day workplace comprise roughly 80% of most organizations, making them one of a company’s largest investments and indispensable to business results.

Yet, day-to-day activity is often overlooked by leaders. Actually, “avoided” is a better word.  I know, because it’s the space I’ve worked in for years, and getting senior management onboard with this has been an uphill battle. They often don’t see that the answer to many problems is right under their nose.

As a leader who wants a successful company, you must take a closer look at daily operations. That’s where the magic happens. It’s where the vision you’re investing in comes to life–in the form of people, process, and teamwork. It’s where ideas are given arms and legs so they can move forward. The value in any company depends on it, and so does the value of leadership.

A leader’s job is not just about pointing the way—it’s about being an integral part of the process from start to finish. It’s about dealing with the realistic issues of the day. It’s about tapping into your greatest asset–-the day-to-day workplace–-to get your company where it needs to go.

Leaders are responsible for raising the confidence levels of their teams

Years ago, I led a team through a huge organizational change. It involved transitioning operations from an analog (paper) to digital (computer) workflow, a global project that began in the late 1980s, and evolved throughout the following decade.

Remember—this was a time before emailing, texting, and mobile devices. Most of us had never touched a computer, let alone have one appear in our office. For many of us, digital was foreign, confusing, and feared.

My job was to make the transition in day-to-day operations as smooth and effective as possible — to get people onboard, trained and up to speed.

To be successful, I needed to elevate the confidence level of my team: To demystify the digital by grounding everyone—including myself– in the practical. Together, we learned how to use the computer, work the programs, and input copy. Questions were encouraged. Answers were given. Fear and doubt were replaced by understanding and ownership.

In any organization, change must happen at the individual level before it can be considered successful at the corporate one. It happens when each person gets it and isn’t confused or frightened by it anymore.

As a leader, you are responsible to provide an environment for human success: the tools and training to teach, and the support and materials necessary to understand, reinforce, and sustain. That’s how you create a commitment of confidence that is a shared experience.

Beware the tyranny of “always” and “never”

Many managers use the words, “always” and “never” often, as a way to control their team. In fact, I’m smiling, remembering one particular VP who loved to say, “But, we always did it this way.”

This signals self-esteem issues that are extremely limiting—not just as words, but in the way you and your team operate. Words are thoughts that get translated into action. As a leader, you cannot be limited in thoughts, words or actions. You need to be open to possibility—to innovation—and to keeping your team open to them too.

The confident leader allows room for imagination and creativity, which could never survive or thrive in an “always” or “never” world. You need to pivot often and quickly now because change is the order of the day.

The more grounded and confident you and your team are in your abilities to navigate change, the better off you will be.

Know that no one succeeds alone. No one.

Success is always a team effort, and as a leader, your achievements are reflected in your team. If you look at the Seahawks, Facebook, or the corporate transition I described, it is, without doubt, a shared experience.

The success of leaders relies on their ability to be the exemplary team player, with the same qualities expected from employees: respect, resiliency, adaptability, reliability, and commitment. As a leader, you inspire the behavior you exhibit.

Developing that sense of unity and willingness from everyone — to cooperate, to collaborate, to win as a team—is the revenue line that begins with all leaders, including you.

 

Copyright 2014 Michelle Kerrigan

 

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